what a 30 day novel taught me about productivity

On October 31st at 12 midnight I change. No, I don’t turn into a vampire or a werewolf (though I’ve been called similar names), I join the cult of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Writers from all over the world get together (virtually) and share tips, tricks, productivity ideas, and outright sneaky tactics to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  What I discovered this year during the event were several tricks to help you be productive – on any project – not just novel writing.

1. Bursts: NaNo writers often use bursts to get their word count up. I applied this to my other business tasks and was able to get through some of my less interesting tasks. Here are the guidelines: set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes; do only the one task at hand; do the task without pausing. Tasks to try: reading a report, reading and answering email, writing (blogs, presentations, letters), brainstorming, or even paying attention. In the world of multi-tasking, it can be difficult to focus on only one thing, but the outcome can make a believer out of your – it did of me!

2. Co-locate: Although writing a novel is a solo task, many writers get together in the same location to share the experience and encourage each other (write-ins). There is something about sitting in a cafe with several other people all working toward a deadline – even though they are working on separate projects. Think about it. If you need to feel connected, ask a few of your fellow anywhere workers to meet for a ‘co-location’ workday at the local cafe. You can encourage each other, brainstorm, or just hold each other accountable for the tasks you want to accomplish in the couple of hours you are together.

3. Competition: During the month of NaNoWriMo each novelist can post their wordcount for other members to see. There really is no competition other than with yourself – to see if you can do it. There are no prizes – only the self satisfaction of completing a first draft. And yet there is a little friendly jab between locations, states, or the person at the table next to you at the write-in. This can be good or bad so use it carefully in your business. I’ve started posting my project progress on a dashboard which I’ve shared with my accountability partner. We check in every week on the progress and have to answer to things that are not completed on time.

4. Reuse: In the NaNoWriMo game, some writers will reuse sections of their novel as part of the story. Think about the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ with Bill Murray. The scenes were the same over and over with just a few minor changes. Now how can you use that in your work? I’ve tried to create templates for some of my work. I’ve also looked at my work to see if I can re-purpose it in different formats. Can you use that presentation as an outline for a training class or job aid?

5. Deadlines: Nothing motivates me like a deadline. It helps if that deadline is imposed by someone other than myself, and even though no one is holding me to writing every November, I do it! If you have enlisted the help of an accountability partner (item #3 above) then adding deadlines is just an element of that relationship. If not, try making commitments to your clients, partners, team mates, and boss that you will have a task or project done by a specific day / time. Of course it must be realistic, but also a little bit of a challenge. Which leads me to the last trick.

6. Marathons: Remember pulling an all-night study session at college? Well, it happens during NaNoWriMo too. When you get closer to that deadline and you still have a great deal of work to do – it’s time for a marathon. Grab your favorite snack food, some coffee or other energy drinks, your favorite energizing music, and the most comfortable clothes possible (fuzzy bunny slippers, soft cozy sweats, your lucky ski cap with the big pompom on top). Set up your work area with all of the necessary equipment and materials: laptop, power cord, good lighting, ergonomic chair, headphones, ipod, etc). Turn off your phone, close your email client, disconnect from the internet (unless you need it for your project) and go to work…and don’t stop until you’ve met your goal!

NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone and neither are all of these productivity tricks. Some of them work for me and others (marathons) don’t. Sometimes all you need to do to kick start your productivity is do one thing different. Maybe one of these tricks is your one thing.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What productivity tricks worked for you? I’d love to know – I’m always learning!